Thursday, 7 August 2008

A brand called Dhoni?

A brand called Dhoni…..umm…Dhoni…a brand?

The other day newspapers reported how brand Mahendra Singh Dhoni was now generating more revenues than brand Tendulkar. (for the un initiated, these gentlemen are Indian stars in the game of cricket).

Fair point. The numbers back this.

But the article seemed inappropriately worded. Something made me uncomfortable. I mulled over it for a while and concluded that the use of the word “brand” in describing Dhoni was intriguing.

“Label Dhoni generates more revenue than brand Sachin.” That sounds fine.

I have tremendous respect and admiration for Dhoni. As a cricketer and captain, he has shown immense application, confidence and results. I do not grudge him the respect and admiration of the country. (Myself included).

But it’s the use of the word “brand” that alerts my senses. As a marketer, the “brand” is holy. It’s the ultimate recognition given to the goods/ services being marketed. Its earned. Over time. Over generations.

Who should wear this crown? When? And Why? Can the title of “brand” be so easily earned? Is Dhoni not a well known label today? Sure, maybe I am being esoteric here. But them, this is my profession. If I don’t get picky about marketing issues, what else should I do?

Coke is a brand. Pepsi. Nike. TATA. Britannia. Tendulkar. Many more. These brands have been along many years and have established a trust with consumers based on their performance under the spotlight day after day. Over time.

This aspect of time in the definition of a brand is in my view, a very critical element.

Why is time critical in the creation of a brand?

Lets take the example of Mohandas Gandhi. The father of a nation. Lets say he is a brand. Do I think he would have generated more ad revenue than Dhoni and Tendulkar put together? Certainly on the lecture circuit he would have done well.

What made him great enough to be called a “Mahatma”? The great soul? Is that not what brand managers try and sell in a brand? The “soul”?

What did the Mahatma have? In my view, the following:
• Unique skills.
• Evolving consumer connection.
• Sustained consumer value.

Business jargon. But it makes the point.

How did we judge the Mahatma? Not because he had one year of excellent negotiations with the British. Not because he went to jail for 15 months. Not because he chose to wear “khadi” for a few summer seasons.

His enabling the country’s independence was a struggle over many decades.

Through evolving times, turbulent periods of our history the Mahatma delivered his message consistently through his path of non violence. He modified his battles in sensing the mood of the country as well as the British and ensured he was relevant to the need of the emerging nation. At the time of his passing away, three generations of Indians were engaged with the Gandhi brand.

The duration of time allows a brand to present itself to new generations of users. If it succeeds, its consumer base is unlimited. If it fails, it was never a brand!

Coca Cola. My nephew has an opinion on the brand. My parents have an opinion and I have an opinion. The brand has engaged each of us. It means different things to each of us. And we do not each use the brand in the same way (my father consumes the most). But to each of us, in its own way, the brand has represented a way of life which is fun, responsible…and for me. It has done this over years. Reflecting the changing consumer in its projection of the brand. It capturing the essence of the times through its imagery. By delivering a product consistently. It has followed our lives’ journeys. We believe the brand when it says - “I understand you. I am always with you. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, lets share the moment together.” (I accept that the element of sugary, fizzy drinks not being ideal for good health has taken off some of the sheen around this brand).

Or lets consider Amitabh Bachchan. From the angry young man of the 70s and 80s to the knowledgeable patriarch in the new century. He has captured the mood of the country. The brand had its down phase as well. (Was it over extension?) But the strength of its recovery demonstrated its capacity to adjust to the evolving consumers as well as the changing environment.

In the public domain, where all brands exist, its only the ”test of time” that forces a need to evolve, adapt and demonstrate relevance.

The revenue generated by the Dhoni name is only a reflection of current value and estimated future potential. It allows companies to associate their products with a name that means high performance today but equally shows the potential for future performance.

I have no problem with that. But Dhoni, I can’t believe that you are already a brand. You have had a strong beginning. May you successfully continue building yourself into a strong brand one day.

Anyway, I am not sure if Dhoni even worries about this when he is hitting low full tosses for sixes with his helicopter swing. The point of my writing this note is simply to request any reader of this note to be a little cautious when ascribing the title of “brand” to persons/ products or services. Most of us in the marketing business will agree it takes years and years of preparation for a brand to develop. If it was any easier, our professions wouldn’t be so much fun. Lets respect the title “brand” and be judicious in using it.

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